From charlesreid1


Actually it's not unpleasant; any physical linkage to a fellow mammal seems a plus at this point. Damien is a friend. Their boy-girl Lego doesn't click, he would say.

She's here on Blue Ant's ticket. Relatively tiny in terms of permanent staff, globally distributed, more post-geographic than multinational, the agency has from the beginning billed itself as a high-speed, low-drag life-form in an advertising ecology of lumbering herbivores. Or perhaps as some non-carbon-based life-form, entirely sprung from the smooth and ironic brow of its founder, Hubertus Bigend, a nominal Belgian who looks like Tom Cruise on a diet of virgins' blood and truffled chocolates. The only thing Cayce enjoys about Bigend is that he seems to have no sense at all that his name might seem ridiculous to anyone, ever. Otherwise, she would find him even more unbearable than she already does.

CPUs. Cayce Pollard Units. That's what Damien calls the clothing she wears. CPUs are either black, white, or gray, and ideally seem to have come into this world without human intervention. What people take for relentless minimalism is a side effect of too much exposure to the reactor-cores of fashion. This has resulted in a remorseless paring-down of what she can and will wear. She is, literally, allergic to fashion.

She's a design-free zone, a one-woman school of anti whose very austerity periodically threatens to spawn its own cult.

The Rickson's is a fanatical museum-grade replica of a U.S. MA-1 flying jacket, as purely functional and iconic a garment as the previous century produced. Dorotea's slow burn is being accelerated, Cayce suspects, by her perception that Cayce's MA-1 trumps any attempt at minimalism, the Rickson's having been created by Japanese obsessives driven by passions having nothing at all to do with anything remotely like fashion.

It must be difficult," Stonestreet says, between steepled, freckled fingers, his red thatch rising above them like flames from a burning cathedral, "when you don't like something. Emotionally, I mean."

CHARLIE Don't Surf is full, the food California-inflected Vietnamese fusion with more than the usual leavening of colonial Frenchness. The white walls are decorated with enormous prints of close-up black-andwhite photographs of 'Nam-era Zippo lighters, engraved with crudely drawn American military symbols, still cruder sexual motifs, and stenciled slogans. These remind Cayce of photographs of tombstones in Confederate graveyards, except for the graphic content and the nature of the slogans, and the 'Nam theme suggests to her that the place has been here for a while. IF I HAD A FARM IN HELL AND A HOUSE IN VIETNAM I'D SELL THEM BOTH The lighters in the photographs are so worn, so dented and sweat-corroded, that Cayce may well be the first diner to ever have deciphered these actual texts. BURY ME FACE DOWN SO THE WORLD CAN KISS MY ASS

Cayce concentrates on tiny fried spring rolls, setting herself for auto-nod and periodically but sympathetically raised eyebrows, grateful that he's carrying the conversational ball. She's way down deep in that trough now, with the half-glass of cabernet starting to exert its own lateral influence, and she knows that her best course here is to make nice, get some food in her stomach, and be gone. But the Zippo tombstones, with their existential elegies, tug at her. PHU CAT

Near the door, on their way out, she numbly registers a shallow Lucite cabinet displaying an array of those actual Vietnam Zippos, perhaps a dozen of them, and automatically leans closer. SHIT ON MY DICK OR BLOOD ON MY BLADE Which is very much her attitude toward Dorotea, right now, though she doubts she'll be able to do anything about it, and will only turn the anger against herself.

He looks back up. "You can't seriously believe it's him." Him being Kim Hee Park, the young Korean auteur responsible for the film in question, an interminable art-house favorite some people compare with the footage, others going so far as to suggest that Kim Park is in fact the maker of the footage. Suggesting this to Cayce is akin to asking the Pope if he's soft on that Cathar heresy. "No," she says, firmly. "Of course not." "New segment." Quick, under his breath. "When?" "This morning. Forty-eight seconds. It's them." It's as though they are in a bubble now, Cayce and the barman. No sound penetrates. "Do they speak?" she asks. "No." "You've seen it?" "No. Someone messaged me, on my mobile." "No spoilers," Cayce warns, getting a grip.

She hasn't gone to the forum. Spoilers. She wants each new fragment to impact as cleanly as possible. Parkaboy says you should go to new footage as though you've seen no previous footage at all, thereby momentarily escaping the film or films that you've been assembling, consciously or unconsciously, since first exposure. Homo sapiens are about pattern recognition, he says. Both a gift and a trap.

He might be a sailor, stepping onto a submarine in 1914, or a jazz musician entering a club in 1957. There is a lack of evidence, an absence of stylistic cues, that Cayce understands to be utterly masterful. His black coat is usually read as leather, though it might be dull vinyl, or rubber. He has a way of wearing its collar up.

Zaprudered into surreal dimensions of purest speculation, ghost-narratives have emerged and taken on shadowy but determined lives of their own, but Cayce is familiar with them all, and steers clear. And here in Damien's flat, watching their lips meet, she knows that she knows nothing, but wants nothing more than to see the film of which this must be a part. Must be. Above them, somewhere, something flares, white, casting a claw of Caligarian shadow, and then the screen is black. She clicks on Replay. Watches it again.

Cayce puts her facility with entirely left-field conversations down to her career of actual on-the-street cool-hunting, such as it's been, and as much as she hates to call it that. She's done a bit, too. She's been dropped into neighborhoods like Dogtown, which birthed skateboarding, to explore roots in hope of finding whatever the next thing might be. And she's learned it's largely a matter of being willing to ask the next question. She's met the very Mexican who first wore his baseball cap backward, asking the next question. She's that good.

He stops, rummages in his pouch, and produces a rather tragic-looking rectangle of scuffed black plastic, about the size of a videocassette. It has one of those stick-on keypads that somehow actually work, something Cayce knows from the cable boxes in the sort of motel where guests might be expected to try to steal them. "That's a computer?" "One K of RAM!" "One?" They've come out into a street called Westbourne Grove now, with a sprinkling of trendy retail, and she can see a crowd down at the intersection with Portobello. "What do you do with them?" "Is complicated." "How many do you have?" "Many.” "Why do you like them?" "Of historical importance to personal computing," he says seriously, "and to United Kingdom. Why there are so many programmers, here."

Walking on, he explains to her that Sinclair, the British inventor, had a way of getting things right, but also exactly wrong. Foreseeing the market for affordable personal computers, Sinclair decided that what people would want to do with them was to learn programming. The ZX 81, marketed in the United States as the Timex 1000, cost less than the equivalent of a hundred dollars, but required the user to key in programs, tapping away on that little motel keyboard-sticker. This had resulted both in the short market-life of the product and, in Voytek's opinion, twenty years on, in the relative preponderance of skilled programmers in the United Kingdom.

"But if Timex sold it in the United States," she asks him, "why didn't we get the programmers?" "You have programmers, but America is different. America wanted Nintendo. Nintendo gives you no programmers. Also, on launch of product in America, RAM-expansion unit did not ship for three months. People buy computer, take it home, discover it does almost nothing. A disaster."

But this final and particular time, watching him phase-shift into what she'd learned to recognize as the run-up to one of his ever-reliable orgasms, she'd for some reason stretched her arms above her head, perhaps even luxuriously, her left hand sliding accidentally under the cockroach-colored veneer of the headboard. Where it encountered something cold and hard and very precisely made. Which she brailled, shortly, into the square butt of an automatic pistol—held there, probably, with tape very similar to the tape she'd used here, this morning, to conceal the hole in her Buzz Rickson's. Donny, she knew, was left-handed, and had so positioned this so that he could reach it conveniently as he lay in bed. Some very basic computational module instantly had completed the simplest of equations: if boyfriend sleeps with gun, Cayce does not share bed, or bod, with (now abruptly former) boyfriend. And so she'd lain there, her fingertip against what she assumed was the checkered hardwood of the gun's grip, and watched Donny take his last ride on that particular pony.

But here, in CamdenTown, in Damien's flat, up a narrow flight of stairs, there is a room. It is the room where she's slept on previous visits, and she knows that Damien has now converted it to a home studio, where he indulges his passion for mixing. Up there, she wonders, now, mightn't there be someone? The someone who somehow got in here in her absence and idly took a look at those Asian sluts? It seems bizarre, and impossible, and yet horribly, if barely, possible. Or is it all too very possible? She makes herself look around the room again, and notices the roll of black tape on the carpet. It is upright, as though it had rolled there. And remembers, very clearly, placing it, when she'd finished with it, on its side, so that it wouldn't roll off, on the edge of the trestle table.

she is not uncertain that she could defend herself with one of these if required, the idea of introducing sharp edges into the equation seems not entirely a good one. She tries another drawer and finds a square cardboard box of machine parts, heavy-looking and precise and slightly oily, which she assumes are leftovers from the robot girls. One of these, thick and cylindrical, fits neatly and solidly into her hand, squared-off edges just showing at either end of her closed fist. What you can do with a roll of quarters, she remembers, Donny coming in handy after all. She takes this with her as she mounts the stairs to Damien's home recording studio. Which proves to be just that, and unoccupied, with no hiding places whatever. A futon, narrow and new, that would be her bed if Damien were here. Back down the stairs.

She examines the windows, all of which are closed, and all but one of which are so thoroughly painted shut that she estimates it would take a carpenter three very expensive hours and a fair number of tools to open one. The one that has been opened, no doubt by that same expensive carpenter, is presently secured by a pair of mirror-world sash bolts, their hidden tongues to be extended and retracted by a sort of key-like wrench or driver, with an oddly shaped head. She has seen these used in London before, and has no idea where Damien keeps his. Since this can only be done from within, and the glass is intact, she rules out the windows as points of entry.

She goes into the bedroom and examines her things. Nothing seems to have been disturbed. She remembers an eerily young Sean Connery, in that first James Bond film, using fine clear Scottish spit to paste one of his gorgeous black hairs across the gap between the jamb and the door of his hotel room. Off to the casino, he will know, upon returning, whether or not his space has been violated. Too late for that. She goes into the other room and looks at the Cube, which has gone back to sleep, and at the roll of tape on the carpet. The room is clean and simple, semiotically neutral, Damien having charged his decorators, on threat of dismissal, with the absolute avoidance of shelter magazine chic of any kind.

is active attention from erect penises. These being, in that way of visual porn for men, weirdly disembodied, as though one were to imagine they had arrived at the brink of a particular orifice through no individual human agency whatever. When she exits, she has to click her way past an opportunistic swarm of linked sites, and some of these, in split-second glances, look considerably worse than Asian Sluts. Now, in browser memory, F:F:F is followed twice by Asian Sluts, as if to prove a point.

"It's kind of you, Bernard, hut—" "Hubertus will be here. He'll be horribly disappointed if he doesn't have a chance to see you." "Aren't we meeting Monday?" "He's in New York tomorrow evening. Can't be here for our meeting. Say you'll come." This is one of those conversations in which Cayce feels that the British have evolved passive-aggressive leverage in much the way they've evolved irony. She has no way of securing the perimeter, here, once she leaves the flat, but this Blue Ant contract represents a good quarter of her anticipated year's gross. "PMS, Bernard. Not to put it too delicately" "Then you absolutely have to come. Helena has something completely marvelous, for that." "Have you tried it?" "Tried what?" She gives up. Company, of almost any kind, seems not entirely a bad idea. "Where are you?" "Docklands. Seven. It's casual. I'll send a car. Delighted you can come. Bye."

An hour later, Damien's door has two entirely new and very expensive German locks, with keys that look like something you might find if you took apart a very up-to-date automatic pistol. The Cube is back on the table in its accustomed place. She didn't change the lock on the street door because she doesn't know Damien's tenants, or even how many there are. Dinner with Bigend. She groans, and goes to change.

Stonestreet's "casual" will translate as relatively dressy, by her standards, so she's opted for the CPU Damien calls Skirt Thing, a long, narrow, anonymously made tube of black jersey, with only the most minimal hemming at either end. Tight but comfortable, rides the hips well, infinitely adjustable in terms of length. Under this, black hose; over it, a black DKNY cardigan un-Dikini-ed with a pair of nail scissors. New-oldstock pumps from a vintage place in Paris.

In New York, once, on an uptown train in rush hour, during the anthrax scares, as she'd mentally recited the duck mantra, she'd found herself looking at a still no bigger than a business card, frame-grabbed and safety-pinned, from a fragment she'd not yet seen, on the green polyester uniform blazer of a weary-looking black woman. Cayce had been using the mantra to ward off a recurring fantasy: that they would drop light bulbs full of the very purest stuff on the subway tracks, where, as she too well remembered Win once having told her, it would take only a few hours, as the Army had evidently proven in experiments in the 1960s, to drift from Fourteenth to Fifty-ninth Street.

Cayce's first footage had been waiting for her as she'd emerged from the flooded all-genders toilet at a NoLiTa gallery party, that previous November. Wondering what she could do to sterilize the soles of her shoes, and reminding herself never to touch them again, she'd noticed two people huddled on either side of a third, a turtlenecked man with a portable DVD player, held before him in the way that crèche figures of the Three Kings hold their gifts. And passing these three she'd seen a face there, on the screen of his ciborium. She'd stopped without thinking and done that stupid duck dance, trying to better align retina to pixel. "What is that?" she'd asked. A sideways look from a girl with hooded eyes, a sharp and avian nose, round steel labret stud gleaming from beneath her lower lip. "Footage," this one had said, and for Cayce it had started there. She'd left the gallery with the URL for a site that offered all of the footage accumulated to that point. Ahead, now, in the wet evening light, a twirling blue pulse, as of something meant to warn of whirlpools, vortices .

Cayce's dislike of Bigend is indeed personal, albeit secondhand, a friend having been involved with the man in New York, back in, as the kids had recently quit saying, the day. Margot, the friend, from Melbourne, had always referred to him as "a Lombard," which Cayce had at first thought might be a reference somehow to his Belgian-ness, until learning, upon finally asking, that it was Margot's acronym for "Loads of money but a real dickhead." As things had progressed between them, mere Lombardhood had scarcely covered it.


Cayce looks at him across two feet of circular table and a tiny oil lamp with a floating wick. He removes his hat, looking in that instant quite suddenly and remarkably Belgian, as though the Stetson should be a fedora of some kind.

but I wouldn't call her a spy. What interested me, though, was how that business seemed in some ways to be the inverse of ours." "Of advertising?" "Yes. I want to make the public aware of something they don't quite yet know that they know—or have them feel that way. Because they'll move on that, do you understand? They'll think they've thought of it first. It's about transferring information, but at the same time about a certain lack of specificity."

"We're being social." And that's an order. "No we're not. I'm not sure that you ever are." Bigend smiles, then, a smile she hasn't seen before, less teeth and perhaps more genuine. It is a smile she suspects is meant to indicate that she has made it across at least the first moat of his persona, has become to some extent an insider. That she knows a realer Bigend: lateral-thinking imp of the perverse, thirty-something boy genius, seeker after truth (or at least functionality) in the markets of this young century. This is the Bigend that invariably emerges in the articles, no doubt after he's gotten to the journalist with this smile and his other tools. "I want you to find him."

She isn't feeling easy with any of this. She doesn't know quite what to do with Bigend's proposition, which has kicked her into one of those modes that her therapist, when last she had one, would lump under the rubric of "old behaviors." It consisted of saying no, but somehow not quite forcefully enough, and then continuing to listen.

Bigend, a formidable practitioner of the other side of this dance, seems genuinely incapable of imagining that others wouldn't want to do whatever it is that he wants them to. Margot had cited this as both the most problematic and, she admitted, most effective aspect of his sexuality: He approached every partner as though they already had slept together. Just as, Cayce was now finding, in business, every Bigend deal was treated as a done deal, signed and sealed. If you hadn't signed with Bigend, he made you feel as though you had, but somehow had forgotten that you had. There was something amorphous, foglike, about his will: It spread out around you, tenuous, almost invisible; you found yourself moving, mysteriously, in directions other than your own.

"It doesn't feel so much like a leap of faith as something I know in my heart." Strange to hear herself say this, but it's the truth. "The heart is a muscle," Bigend corrects. "You `know' in your limbic brain. The seat of instinct. The mammalian brain. Deeper, wider, beyond logic. That is where advertising works, not in the upstart cortex. What we think of as `mind' is only a sort of jumped-up gland, piggybacking on the reptilian brainstem and the older, mammalian mind, but our culture tricks us into recognizing it as all of consciousness.

Seated, not bothering with the menu, Cayce orders coffee, eggs, and sausage, all in her best bad French. The girl looks at her in amazed revulsion, as though Cayce were a cat bringing up a particularly repellant hairball. "All right," says Cayce, under her breath, to the girl's receding back, "be French."

"Can be code supplied to client by watermarking firm. Firm sells client stego-encrypted watermark and means to conceal. Check web for that number. If client's image or video has been pirated, that is revealed by search." "You mean you could use the watermark to follow the dissemination of a given image or video clip?" He nods. "Who does this, the actual watermarking?" "There are companies." "Could a watermark be traced to a particular company, its number?" "Would not be so good for client security" "Would it be possible for someone to detect, or extract, a secret watermark? Without knowing the code, or who placed it there, or even being sure it's there in the first place?" Voytek considers. "Difficult, but might be done. Hobbs knows these things."

"But the `cool' part—and I don't know why that archaic usage has stuck, by the way—isn't an inherent quality. It's like a tree falling, in the forest." "It cannot hear," declares Voytek, solemnly. "What I mean is, no customers, no cool. It's about a group behavior pattern around a particular class of object. What I do is pattern recognition. I try to recognize a pattern before anyone else does." "And then?" "I point a commodifier at it." "And?" "It gets productized. Turned into units. Marketed."

A suggestion of autumn is in the light, now, and she wonders where she'll be this winter. Will she be here? In New York? She doesn't know. What is that, to be over thirty and not know where you'll be in a month or two?

She walks on, feeling not foreign but alien, made so by this latest advent of something that seems to be infecting everything.

She feels the things she herself owns as a sort of pressure. Other people's objects exert no pressure. Margot thinks that Cayce has weaned herself from materialism, is preternaturally adult, requiring no external tokens of self.

"Down the tube," she says aloud, causing a very good-looking young Asian man, walking parallel with her, to start, and look at her with brief alarm. She smiles in reassurance, but he frowns and walks faster. She slows, to let him get ahead. He's wearing a black horsehide car coat, its seams scuffed gray, like a piece of vintage luggage, and he's actually carrying, she now sees, a piece of vintage luggage. A very small suitcase, brown cowhide, that someone has waxed to a russet glow, reminding her of the shoes of the old men in the home in which her grandfather, Win's dad, had died. She looks after him, feeling a wave of longing, loneliness. Not sexual particularly but to do with the nature of cities, the thousands of strangers you pass in a day, probably never to see again. It's an emotion she first experienced a very long time ago, and she guesses it's coming up now because she's on the brink of something, some turning point, and she feels lost.

"What do you do?" "Systems." He waits a beat. "University of Texas, Harvard, then I had a start-up. Which tanked." He doesn't sound bitter, though people who say this seldom do, she's noticed, which she finds a little creepy. They generally know better.

Why are they here, on this flight, Prion and the Velcro Kitty girl? She remembers her father's views on paranoia. Win, the Cold War security expert, ever watchful, had treated paranoia as though it were something to be domesticated and trained. Like someone who'd learned how best to cope with chronic illness, he never allowed himself to think of his paranoia as an aspect of self. It was there, constantly and intimately, and he relied on it professionally, but he wouldn't allow it to spread, become jungle. He cultivated it on its own special plot, and checked it daily for news it might bring: hunches, lateralisms, frank anomalies.

That had always been Win's first line of defense, within himself: to recognize that he was only a part of something larger. Paranoia, he said, was fundamentally egocentric, and every conspiracy theory served in some way to aggrandize the believer.

The designer's door opens as she raises her hand to knock. He is pale, young, unshaven. Glasses with heavy black frames. She sees that he is in his stocking feet, his freshly laundered shirt buttoned in the wrong holes. His fly is open and he is staring at her as though at something he has never seen before. The television is on, CNN, volume up, and as she steps past him, uninvited but feeling the need to do something, she sees, on the screen beneath the unused leatherette ice bucket, the impact of the second plane. And looks up, to the window that frames the towers. And what she will retain is that the exploding fuel burns with a tinge of green that she will never hear or see described. Cayce and the German designer will watch the towers burn, and eventually fall, and though she will know she must have seen people jumping, falling, there will be no memory of it. It will be like watching one of her own dreams on television. Some vast and deeply personal insult to any ordinary notion of interiority. An experience outside of culture.

She concentrates on her breakfast, eggs poached to perfection and toast sliced from a loaf of slightly alien dimensions. The two slices of bacon are crisp and very flat, as though they've been ironed. High-end Japanese hotels interpret Western breakfasts the way the Rickson's makers interpret the MA-1.

Cayce hits End and stares briefly out at blue sky and oddly shaped towers. Her requests don't have to make any sense, she gathers, which is interesting.

Downstairs, in the business center, an exquisite girl in something like the Miyake version of an office lady uniform inkjets the Keiko image on a stiff sheet of superglossy eight-and-a-half by eleven. The image embarrasses Cayce, but the pretty OL exhibits no reaction at all. Emboldened, Cayce has her print out Darryl's kanji as well, requests a thick black marker, and asks the girl to copy it, inscribing the photograph for her. "We need it for a shoot," she lies by way of explanation. Unnecessarily, because the girl considers whatever it says there, calmly judges the available space on the photo, and executes a very lively looking version, complete with exclamation marks. Then she pauses, the marker still poised. "Yes?" Cayce asks. "Pardon me, but would be good with Happy Face?" "Please." The girl quickly adds a Happy Face, caps the marker, hands the photograph to Cayce with both hands, and bows. "Thank you very much." "You are welcome." Bowing again.

Twenty minutes later, in Shibuya, she's settling in to a hot-rocks massage that she hasn't asked for, in a twilit room on the fifteenth floor of a cylindrical building that vaguely resembles part of a Wurlitzer jukebox. None of these women speak English but she's decided just to go with the program, whatever it is, and count on getting her hair cut at some point in the process. Which she does, in great and alien luxury, for the better part of four hours, though it proves to involve a kelp wrap, a deep facial, manifold tweezings and pluckings, a manicure, a pedicure, lower-leg wax, and close-call avoidance of a bikini job. When she tries to pay with the Blue Ant card, they giggle and wave it away. She tries again and one of them points to the card's Blue Ant logo. Either Blue Ant has an account, she decides, or they do Blue Ant's models and this is a freebie. Walking back out into Shibuya sunlight, she feels simultaneously lighter and less intelligent, as though she's left more than a few brain cells back there with the other scruff. She's wearing more makeup than she'd usually apply in a month, but it's been brushed on by Zen-calm professionals, swaying to some kind of Japanese Enya-equivalent.

"Keiko's told me a lot about you," she says, trying to get into character, but this only seems to make him more uncomfortable. "But I don't think she's told me what it is that you do." Taki says nothing. Parkaboy's faith, that Taki has enough English to handle the transaction, may be unfounded. And here she is, halfway around the world, trying to swap a piece of custom-made pornography for a number that might mean nothing at all. He sits there, mouth-breathing, and Cayce is wishing she were anywhere else, anywhere at all.

"When did you get here?" Meaning Japan. "Right behind you. I was in coach." "Why?" "We were followed, when we left the restaurant in CamdenTown." She looks at him. "Young guy, brown hair, black jacket. Followed us to the canal. Watched us from up on the locks. With either a camera or a small pair of binoculars. Then he walked us back to the tube and stuck with me. Lost him in Covent Garden. He didn't make the lift." This makes her think of the first time she'd read Sherlock Holmes. A one-legged Lascar seaman.

The Fanta has a nasty, synthetic edge. She wonders why she bought it. The tabloid doesn't go down any better, seemingly composed in equal measure of shame and rage, as though some inflamed national subtext were being ritually, painfully massaged, for whatever temporary and par- . adoxical relief this might afford.

"Yes, but perhaps he has only a finite number of favors left, to call in." "Favors?" "I don't imagine that he himself has any particular resources. It isn't his talent that might find you what you want, or any knowledge on his part. I believe he calls in a favor, asks someone, and sometimes is told the answer." "Do you know who he asks?" Not really expecting an answer herself. "Have you heard of `Echelon'?" "No." Although she thinks she has, but can't quite place it. "American intelligence have a system that allows for the scanning of all Net traffic. If such a thing exists, then Hobbs might be its grandfather. He may well have been instrumental in its creation." He raises an eyebrow, as if to signal that is all he knows, or is willing to say, about so outré a subject. "I see," she says, wondering if she does.

IF there's any one thing about England that Cayce finds fundamentally disturbing, it is how "class" works—a word with a very different mirror-world meaning, somehow. She's long since given up trying to explain this to English friends. The closest she can come is that it's somewhat akin, for her, if only in its enormity, to how the British seem to feel about certain American attitudes to firearms ownership—which they generally find unthinkable, and bafflingly, self-evidently wrong, and so often leading to a terrible and profligate waste of human life. And she knows what they mean, but also knows how deeply it runs, the gun thing, and how unlikely it is to change. Except, perhaps, gradually, and over a very long time. Class in England is like that, for her.

She'll call Boone. She has to tell him what's happened. She shuts down the iBook and uncables the phone. Something tells her that it means something, that she isn't calling Parkaboy first, but she chooses to ignore that. Sends the first of the cell numbers he'd loaded for her on the flight from Tokyo. "Boone?" A woman giggles. "Who's calling, please?" In the background she hears Boone say, "Give me that." Cayce looks at her mug of steaming green tea, remembering the last time she drank green tea, in Hongo, with Boone. "Cayce Pollard." "Boone Chu," he says, having taken the phone from the woman. "It's Cayce, Boone." Remembering the kudzu on the iron roof. Thinking: You said she was in Madrid. "Just checking in." Marisa. Damien has a Marina. Someone will turn up with a Marika soon. "Good," he says. "News on your end?" She looks out at traffic passing on the High Street. "No." "I may be getting somewhere, here. I'll let you know." "Thanks." Stabbing the button. "I'm sure you are." A server, apparently noticing Cayce's expression, looks alarmed. Cayce forces a smile, looks down at her bowl. Puts the phone down with exaggerated calm and picks up her chopsticks. "Fuck," she says, under her breath, willing herself to continue eating. How is it that she still sets herself up for these things? she asks herself.

As in Japan, she's realized, she's partially buffered by her inability to read the language. For which she's grateful, as the density of commercial language here, in this airport at least, rivals Tokyo. One sign she can read is above an ATM, and says BANKOMAT, which she decides is what ATMs would have been called in America if they had been invented in the fifties.

"But they were so nasty to their own people," she'd protested, "so petty. They only allowed two colors of paint, one dead gray and a brown that looked as much like shit as it's possible for brown to look. A brown you can smell." "Not a lot of advertising to bother you, though, is there?" She'd had to laugh. "Was it like that when you were in Moscow?" "Certainly not. Germans doing communism? That even put the wind up the Russians. Like they saw the East Germans really believed in it, all of it. You could see they thought that was crazy." Her cab drives under a vast Prada logo. She resists the urge to cringe.

Bolshoy Kamennii Most, BigStoneBridge, is big indeed, though probably many incarnations on from the bridge that had originally acquired the name. No trouble finding it, and no trouble finding Caffeine, either, with the map she'd copied from the attachment on that last e-mail. She'd drawn it on a sheet of President letterhead, folded in quarters. Definitely the place here, though Caffeine is КОЏEИН. "He took a duck in the face ... " she whispers, as she does a walk-by, checking it out. It looks more like a bar filled with high-backed armchairs than a coffeehouse, but then she remembers coffeehouses in Seattle, when she'd started in board-wear. More like that, but without the Goodwill sofas.

Lots of Prada, Gucci, but in a Moneyed Bohemian modality too off-the-shelf for London or New York. LA, she realizes: except for two goth girls in black brocade, and a boy gotten up in impeccable High Grunge, it's Rodeo Drive with an extra helping of cheekbones. But the young woman crossing from the entrance now wears nothing that isn't matte and the darkest of grays. Pale. Dark eyes. Center-parted hair, unfashionably long. Her white face, angular yet somehow soft, eclipses everything. Cayce realizes that she's gripping the arms of her chair so hard that her fingers hurt. "You are the one who writes, yes?" Only lightly accented, a low voice but very clear, as though she were speaking with perfect enunciation from a distance. Cayce starts to rise, but the stranger waves her back and takes the other chair. "Stella Volkova." She offers Cayce her hand. "Cayce Pollard," taking it. Is this the maker? Is the maker named Stella? Is Stella a Russian name?

"Stella? May I ask you something?" "Yes?" "Are you the maker?" Stella tilts her head. "I am twins." If she demonstrates some literal power of physical bilocation, now, it won't surprise Cayce. "My sister, she is the artist. I, I am what? The distributor. The one who finds an audience. It is not so great a talent, I know." "My God," says Cayce, who doesn't think she has one, "it's really true." Stella's eyes, already large, widen. "Yes. It is true. Nora is the artist." Cayce feels herself starting to lock up again. Next question. Anything. "Are Stella and Nora Russian names?" "Our mother was great admirer of your literature. Particularly of Williams, and of Joyce." "Williams?" "Tennessee."

When she did talk, it was only to me, and in a language that had been ours in childhood." "`Twin talk'?" "The language of Stella and Nora. Then other language returns. The doctors had asked me her interests and of course there was only film. Shortly, we were shown an editing suite which our uncle had caused to have assembled there, in the clinic. We showed Nora the film she had been working on, in Paris, before. Nothing. As if she could not see it. Then she was shown her film from Cannes. That she saw, but it seemed to cause her great pain. Soon she began to use the equipment. To edit. Recut." Cayce, hypnotized, is nearing the bottom of her cup. The waiter arrives, to silently refill it. "Three months, she recut. Five operations in that time, and still she worked. I watched it grow shorter, her film. In the end, she had reduced it to a single frame." In chilling apparent synchronicity, Caffeine falls momentarily silent. Cayce shivers. "What was the image?" "A bird. In flight. Not even in focus. Its wings, against gray cloud." She covers her own empty cup, when the waiter moves to refill it. "She went inside, after that." "Inside?" "She ceased to speak, then to react. To eat. Again they fed her with tubes. I was crazy. There was talk of taking her to America, but American doctors came. In the end they said they could do nothing. It could not be removed." "What could not be removed?" "The last fragment. It rests between the lobes, in some terrible way. It cannot be moved. Risk is too great." The dark eyes bottomless now, filling Cayce's field of vision.

"But then she notices the screen." "The screen?" "Monitor. Above, in hallway. Closed circuit, showing only the reception at the front of that private ward. The Swiss nurse sitting, reading. Someone passing. They saw her watching that. The most clever of the doctors, he was from Stuttgart. He had them put a line from that camera into her editing suite. When she looked at those images, she focused. When the images were taken away, she began to die again. He taped two hours of this, and ran it on the editing deck. She began to cut it. To manipulate. Soon she had isolated a single figure. A man, one of the staff. They brought him to her, but she had no reaction. She ignored him. Continued to work. One day I found her working on his face, in Photoshop. That was the beginning." Cayce presses her head against the high back of the chair. Forces herself to close her eyes. When she opens them, she will see her old Rickson's, draped across the shoulders of Damien's robot girl. Or the open bedding closet in the apartment in Hongo, stuffed with a stranger's clothing. "You are tired? Unwell?" She opens her eyes. Stella is still there. "No. Only listening to your story. Thank you for telling it to me." "You are welcome." "Stella?" "Yes? "Why did you tell it to me? Everything you and your sister do seems to be surrounded by so much secrecy. And yet, when I find your address, finally, which was very hard to do, and e-mail you, you reply immediately. I come here, you meet me. I don't understand."

Whatever weird, sad, scary, deeply Russian scenario Stella and her twin are socketed into, she desperately doesn't want to betray whatever it is she's seen rise behind the stillness of that white face. Parkaboy would get it. But who else would? Not, she's now certain, Boone. Bigend, probably, but in that way of his, in which he seems to somehow understand emotions without ever having partaken of them.

Then three guys in black leather coats showed up, and everyone but Mama went instantly deferential. You just sort of evaporated, with your little gurney, no more muss, and Mama went with the coats, looking none too happy about it. Me, I was feeling left out. I checked my e-mail. One from you, with Stella's address. I e-mailed her. Told her I was your friend, and what I'd just seen. Thirty minutes later I was in a BMW with a blue flasher and a fresh set of black coats, running reds and doing downtown Moscow in the wrong lane. Next thing I knew, I was up in one of the Seven Sisters, with Volkov—" "Sisters?" "Little old Commie Gothic skyscrapers with wedding-cake frills. Very high-end real estate. Your Mr. Bigend—" "Bigend?" "And Stella. Plus a bunch of Volkovites and this Chinese hacker from Oklahoma—" "Boone?" "The guy who's been hacking your hotmail for Bigend." She remembers the room in Hongo, Boone cabling his laptop to hers.

She sees a ring of lights come on, ahead of them. "I don't understand how this could all have been put together, just to facilitate Nora's art. Well, how isn't a problem, I guess, but why?" "Massive organizational redundancy, in the service of absolute authority. We're talking post-Soviet, right? And enormous personal wealth. Nora's uncle isn't Bill Gates yet, but it wouldn't be entirely ridiculous to mention them in the same sentence. He was on top of a lot of changes, here, very early, and largely managed to keep his name out of the media. Which must have been a downright spooky accomplishment. Always has brilliant government connections, regardless of who's in power. He's ridden out a lot, that way."

You speak French?" "Not really." "Me neither. Never regretted it more than when he and Bigend were having a conversation." "Why?" He turns and looks at her. "It was like watching spiders mate." "They got along?" "A lot of information being exchanged, but it probably didn't have that much to do with what they were actually saying, either through the translator or in French."

"Cayce," Sergei says, "when you attracted our attention, a report was passed on to the more traditional arm, and that is where your father comes in. You were tracked, via your post's ISP, your name and address determined, and logged. Somewhere, then, it rang a very old bell. They went into the paper files, in Moscow, and found your father's dossier, and verified that you were his daughter. To further complicate things, being traditionalists," and here he stops, and grins, "probably, I should say, simply being Russian—they became more deeply, more baroquely suspicious: that the name of this brilliant man, an old opponent, supposedly long retired, should be again before them.... But they cannot locate him. He is gone. Vanished. On nine-eleven. But is he dead? No? Where is the proof? They took certain steps." Sergei pauses. "Your apartment was entered and devices were installed to allow your phone and e-mail to be monitored." "When was that?" Parkaboy asks. "Within a week of the post that attracted the attention."

"Someone's been in my apartment within the past two weeks," Cayce says. "They were checking," Marchwinska-Wyrwal says, "to see whether the devices had been compromised. It is routine." "Your psychologist's records were copied," Sergei continues. "She had absolutely no knowledge of this. Burglary, not bribery. But all of that was the traditionalist response, not ours. Ours was to employ Dorotea Benedetti to keep track of you, both through the site and through her ongoing business contacts with firms you worked for in New York."

Cayce looks from Sergei to Marchwinska-Wyrwal to Bigend, then to Parkaboy, feeling much of the recent weirdness of her life shift beneath her, rearranging itself according to a new paradigm of history. Not a comfortable sensation, like Soho crawling on its own accord up Primrose Hill, because it has discovered that it belongs there, and has no other choice. But, as Win had taught her, the actual conspiracy is not so often about us; we are most often the merest of cogs in larger plans.

It occurs to her then that the meal has been entirely free of toasts, and that she's always heard that a multitude of them are to be expected at a Russian meal. But perhaps, she thinks, this isn't a Russian meal. Perhaps it's a meal in that country without borders that Bigend strives to hail from, a meal in a world where there are no mirrors to find yourself on the other side of, all experience having been reduced, by the spectral hand of marketing, to price-point variations on the same thing. But as she's thinking this, Marchwinska-Wyrwal taps his glass with the edge of a spoon.

"I wish to offer a toast to Miss Pollard's father, the late Wingrove Pollard. It is an easy thing, for those of us who remember how it was, to lapse for a moment into old ways of thought, old rivalries. I did that myself, earlier, and now I must apologize for it. Had there not been men like her father, on the side of democracy and the free market, where would we be today? Not here, certainly. Nor would this establishment serve the purpose it does today, assisting the progress of art while bettering the lives and futures of those less fortunate." He pauses, looking around the table, and Cayce wonders exactly what it is he's doing, and why? Is it a way of covering his ass with Volkov, after having upset her? Can he actually mean this, any of it?

She'd gone with Peter to visit Stella and Nora in the squat in Moscow, and then on to the dig, where Damien's shoot had been winding down, and where she'd found herself, out of some need she hadn't understood, down in one of the trenches, furiously shoveling gray muck and bones, her face streaked with tears. Neither Peter nor Damien had asked her why, but she thinks now that if they had she might have told them she was weeping for her century, though whether the one past or the one present she doesn't know. And now it's late, close to the wolfing hour of soul-lack. But she knows, lying curled here, behind him, in the darkness of this small room, with the somehow liquid background sounds of Paris, that hers has returned, at least for the meantime, reeled entirely in on its silver thread and warmly socketed. She kisses his sleeping back and falls asleep.